By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor



The Disney Dining Plan



By Dave Shute

How to Eat    Where to Eat    The Dining Plan    Guide to Disney Dining

OVERVIEW: THE DISNEY DINING PLAN(S)

(This page is one of a series explicating Walt Disney World lingo, abbreviations, and FAQ for first time family visitors to Walt Disney World.)

There are several Disney Dining Plans available to guests at Walt Disney World resort hotels. The basic premise of these plans is that by pre-paying many of your meals, your budgeting is simplified, and, possibly, you might save money.

(See this for the official Walt Disney World website material on all of these plans.)

Only one of Disney Dining Plans–the “Disney Dining Plan” itself—is worth considering.  This site recommends that those eating all the meals in one of its recommended itineraries purchase it.

The rationale is that those with younger children eating a number of character buffet meals will save some money by purchasing the dining plan.  Not a lot, though.

Buying this plan, however, raises a couple of complexities.

First, to get the maximum value out of it, you really should eat at some of Walt Disney World’s best loved dining settings.  These can sell out months in advance, so you should follow this site’s advice on when your plans should be firm.

Second, while you are actually at Walt Disney World, there can be confusion about which credits apply to which settings, and what items are included and not included.  The itineraries of this site take care of most of this for you.

MORE DETAIL ON THE DISNEY DINING PLAN(S)


All of the Disney Dining Plans work basically the same way.

  • You buy the same dining plan for each person registered in your hotel room, for each night of your stay. (You can’t buy it for kids under three, and kids three to ten have special, much lower, prices.)
  • When you check in, you will be granted a certain number of credits of various types for each night of your stay.  These credits can be used on any day of your stay, and by any member of your party, except that you can’t trade kid table service credits for credits for those 10 and over.
  • So, for example, you could use none of your credits on one day, and have half of your party use all of your remaining credits the next.

The plans vary by what credits you get, and how many per night of your reservation.

The basic plan, called the Disney Dining Plan, is the one recommended for those following the itineraries of this site, as they will save a little money from using it for all the meals the itineraries present, rather than paying cash for all of them.

The rest of this page goes into much more detail on the plans, and is based on the wildly helpful The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit.

THE DISNEY DINING PLAN

Disney World dining is expensive. For some guests, it may even be the priciest component of the vacation, eclipsing the cost of lodging and theme park tickets. The three versions of the Disney Dining Plan (Quick Service, Regular, and Deluxe) are a way to prepay some of these dining expenses.

Years ago, when the Regular Dining Plan included appetizer and tip at sit-down restaurants, you could actually save some money by using these plans. These days it’s hard for us to recommend them:

The Quick Service Dining Plan is priced so high that it’s only possible to break even or come out ahead if you use the credits solely for lunch and dinner. From there, you’ll need to order only the most expensive items to eke out a potential savings of a dollar or two per day.

At a cost just south of $70 per adult per day, the Regular Dining Plan is expensive and saving money with it requires planning only the most expensive meals, especially if most of your party is ten of older. However, Families with kids three to nine who are also dining at multiple one-credit characters meals and buffets can do quite well on the Regular plan, which is why it still shows up in this site’s itineraries for first timers

The Deluxe Dining Plan comes with three quick or table service meals per day at a cost of about $105 per day per adult. Users either spend three or more hours per day eating table service meals or use their credits on faster quick service meals, in turn reducing the value of each credit.

With only a couple of exceptions, we suggest skipping the dining plans. Exceptions include:

  • Pricing on the Regular Plan is advantageous for groups with kids under the age of ten that plan multiple one credit buffets and character meals. The cost of a child buffet at many character meals exceeds their cost of the Regular Dining Plan for that day.
  • If you take comfort in pre-paying some of your dining expenses as a budgeting tool (even if this means you spend more money), the Quick Service or Regular plans may make sense for you—the cash loss may be worth the budget comfort. It’s nice knowing that food is pre-paid and users are free to order whatever entrees and desserts that they like.

With or without a dining plan, the typical family eating their meals on property should budget $35–$60+ per adult per day, and between $15 and $40/day for the kids—depending on their ages and appetites.

DISNEY DINING PLAN CREDITS AND WHAT THEY COVER

The Dining Plans are only available to guests staying at Disney owned and operated resorts. All guests on a single reservation (except children under three—not covered on any plan) must opt for the same Dining Plan if you elect to purchase it. There’s no such thing as having four people on a room reservation and only three people on a dining plan. And it isn’t possible for one person to purchase Deluxe, while the other chooses Regular. Everyone over the age of nine must pay the adult rate, regardless of how much they plan to eat. And kids 3–9 might be required to order from the Kids’ Menu if the dining location has one. And the purchased plan must be for the full number of nights booked—you can’t book a room for six nights, but get a plan for only four of them.

Those on the Dining Plan receive a number of credits based on the number of nights they’re staying. The Dining Plan and credits are not connected to theme park tickets or anything else—just the number of nights on the reservation. The credits are usable from the check-in day through midnight on the checkout day (so if you check out at 11a December 4, the credits can be used until midnight December 4.). Credits can be used in any order on any of these days. On a three-night stay, a guest could conceivably use all their credits on the first day, the last day, or space them out.

Quick service meals generally consist of one entrée or combo meal, and one non-alcoholic beverage. For 2017 plans, Disney has eliminated the dessert and added an additional snack credit per day, which can be used on dessert or on something else. Virtually every quick service on property participates in the Dining Plan, and all quick service meals cost one credit.

Table service meals, including one entrée, one dessert, and one non-alcoholic beverage, cost one or two credits. Two credit meals are signature experiences at the most expensive dinner shows, buffets, and restaurants like Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and California Grill. (Deluxe Dining Plan credits used at table service venues also include an appetizer, in addition to the entrée, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage.)

Snack credits can be used on many small food items, and don’t need to be associated with a meal at all. The number and variety of items eligible for snack credits were greatly expanded in the summer of 2015. Examples include candy apples, ice cream bars, pastries, and bottles of water and soda. Look for the Dining Plan symbol on any menu to see what is eligible to be paid for with a snack credit.

The credits don’t always cover everything you might want at a meal, largely don’t cover tips, and the only time credits cover alcohol is for beer and wine at the dinner shows. Thus most guests have some additional dining expenses, in addition to the cost of the Dining Plan.

THE QUICK SERVICE DISNEY DINING PLAN

The Quick Service Dining Plan includes per person, per night:

  • Two quick service meals (entrée and non-alcoholic beverage)
  • Two snacks

In addition, each guest receives a refillable mug for use at their resort’s quick service, and, if drink service is available at them, at its pools, for the length of their stay. It also can be used at the quick services of other Disney resort hotels.

So a family of four staying for five nights would receive ten quick service meals, ten snacks, and a refillable mug each. For 2017, after-tax pricing is:

  • $48.19 per night for those ten and older
  • $20.88 per night for kids ages three to nine

Adult quick service entrees are typically $10–$14 in the theme parks. Add a $3 fountain beverage and your average meal comes to around $15. Eat two of those, in addition to a $4 Mickey Ice Cream Bar and $5 pretzel, and add about $2.50 for a day’s worth of the refillable mug, and you’ve come out just about even, after adding tax. Kids’ Picks generally come in around $7 each. Eat two and add a $3 popsicle and $4 popcorn and the use of the refillable mug, and you’ve covered the day’s cost.

While technically possible to eke out a savings of a dollar or two per day, those savings evaporate whenever you eat breakfast, when prices are usually lower, or whenever someone is forced to order something they ordinarily wouldn’t. It also makes it difficult to schedule a table service meal or character buffet since they aren’t included on the Plan. You can pay cash for such meals, but if doing so pushes you to using a credit for breakfast—or worse, ending your vacation with unused credits—the Quick Service plan will cost you money.

THE “REGULAR” DISNEY DINING PLAN

The “Regular” Dining Plan—often known simply as the Disney Dining Plan—includes per person, per night:

  • One quick service meal (entrée/non-alcoholic beverage)
  • One table service meal (entrée/dessert or select side/nonalcoholic
    beverage)
  • Two snacks

In addition, each guest receives a refillable mug for use at their resort’s quick service, and, if drink service is available at them, at its pools, for the length of their stay. It also can be used at the quick services of other Disney resort hotels.

For 2017, after-tax pricing is:

  • $69.35 per night for those ten and older
  • $24.95 per night for kids ages three to nine

Child pricing is advantageous with a cost just about $4 more than the Quick Service Plan. With several one credit character buffets priced over $20, it’s easy for kids to come out ten dollars or more ahead each day they dine at such a venue. For those older than 9, the price of $20/per day more than the Quick Service is harder to justify. There are meals where you do well—Akershus for lunch or dinner, after tax, is over $55. A day for family members older than 9 with a typical counter service lunch, a snack, and Akershus for dinner will cost less under the Dining Plan than cash. Dinner at Crystal Palace approaches this cost, as does Chef Mickey’s.

Outside of buffets, it’s difficult to find restaurants with average entrée and dessert prices high enough to cover the cost of the plan.

Let’s assume you’re spending the day at Hollywood Studios and select 50’s Prime Time Café for dinner. You select the second most expensive entrée, the $23 Sampling of Mom’s Favorite Recipes, and the most expensive dessert (Traditional Warm Apple Crisp a la Mode for $8) with a $6 milkshake as your beverage. With tax, the meal comes out to $39.41, which is $29.94 away from covering the cost of the Dining Plan with just a quick service meal and two snacks to go.

At the costliest Studios quick service, ABC Commissary, the most expensive quick service meal you could put together is $24 with tax. That’s about $6 higher than average. Even so, add a $4 Mickey Ice Cream Bar and $5 pretzel as snacks and you’ve only “saved” five dollars compared to the price of one day on the Dining Plan after going out of your way to order the most expensive items at the park.

If you had simply ordered the fried chicken instead of the sampler at 50’s Prime Time, and the burger instead of the Ribs/Chicken Combo at ABC Commissary, you would come out $4 behind the cost of one day on the Dining Plan.

The economics of two-credit meals are even worse. Signature restaurant cash prices generally are about 1.5x the cash cost of regular restaurants, but cost twice the number of credits, resulting in a lower per-credit value. For example, the most expensive meal you could put together on the Dining Plan at California Grill is a $53 Seafood Ramen, $14 Chocolate Pudding Cake, and $4 Coke. That’s $71, or just $35.50 per credit for the most expensive meal at one of the most expensive restaurants on property. To compare, Teppan Edo in the Japan Pavilion at Epcot offers several entrees for $32–$35. Add dessert and a drink and your single credit has a value of about $10 more than California Grill. SO if you are planning more meals than you have credits, pay cash for the two credit meals and use your credits for one credit meals.

THE DELUXE DISNEY DINING PLAN

The Deluxe Dining Plan includes per person, per day:

  • Three meals per day—either quick service or table service. Table service meals include an appetizer where applicable.
  • Two snacks

In addition, each guest receives a refillable mug for use at their resort’s quick service, and, if drink service is available at them, at its pools, for the length of their stay. It also can be used at the quick services of other Disney resort hotels.

For 2017, after-tax pricing is:

  • $106.68 per night for adults
  • $38.75 per night for kids ages three to nine

On paper, there is a lot of value potential here, particularly for kids under the age of ten. To maximize that value, however, you could be spending more than three hours a day dining—even more if you avoid two-credit meals—and building an itinerary largely around being at specific restaurants at specific times. And let’s not forget the actual cost. A family of two adults, a 15-year old, and a 7-year old would cost a whopping $358 per day.

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5 comments

1 Kelly B - Agent with Destinations in Florida { 04.10.17 at 5:15 pm }

Great Article Dave. The dining plan can take a lot to master. You have to know your family and their eating style. For some it’s not the best choice. For others, there is no better way to do Disney.

I think one thing that the dining plan does for me personally, is it allows me to splurge. To enjoy vacation. I know that everything is paid for. And I don’t have to be the cheap chicken if I want the satisfying steak. I can have anything and it’s all going to cost the same.

I also love how they have expanded the choices for snacks. You can now get things like soup, salad, and STARBUCKS!!!! Don’t just think sweets and snack carts. Be sure to look at quick service locations for more options.

And splitting up is no problem with the dining plan and magic bands. Everyone has the plan with them. So if your teens go off on their own, or mom and dad split up the kids – it’s no problem. The plan is attached to each person’s Magic band. No worrying who has the card or the money.

2 Jessica { 04.20.17 at 3:50 pm }

This year when we go to Disney we will have a split stay. We are also renting DVC points so we are not eligible for free dining if it is offered. Since we have a split stay, could we purchase the dining plan for the first part of our stay and not the second since they are different confirmation numbers and resorts?

3 Dave { 04.22.17 at 9:45 am }

Jessica, yes, you can!

4 Rob { 08.05.17 at 10:42 pm }

Hi Dave,
As I understand it, with the Disney Dining plan you have a fixed amount credits and a fixed amount of table service meals, quick service meals, and snacks. Is this correct, and if so, say if we wanted to go to a table service restaurant that required 2 credits, can we use one table service credit along with snack or quick service credits to make up the addition 1 credit, or is it considered 2 table service credits where we would lose an additional table service meal (credit)? Awesome website and thank you very much for any help you can provide.
Thank you,
Rob

5 Dave { 08.07.17 at 7:37 am }

Rob, with most of the Disney Dining Plans the credits you get are tied to meal types, so at table service restaurants you can only use table service credits. Thus the two credit meals require two table service credits.

You get a fixed number of credits, therefore, but NOT a fixed number of meals.

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